Usman Garuba (Madrid, 2002), ambassador of Kellogg values, has just finished his graduation as an NBA rookie. He won’t be anymore after a hard year of pure learning. The Rockets player, back in Spain, talks to Marca about his debut in a League in which he wants to succeed, talks about Madrid and his madridismo and the national team, of which he is and will be one of the key pieces in the next decade.
QUESTION. With what feelings has he returned from his first year in the NBA?
RESPONSE. The truth is that my rookie year has been hard, but a lot of learning. I haven’t had the chance to play much, it’s true, but I’ve always worked to be ready.
P. Do you think you have met the goal you set before going to Houston?
R. Yes. It is true that I have been injured for a long time, but I have taken advantage of that time to work a lot physically. As I say, I have learned a lot and I think I have improved in many aspects, which is what I had set as an objective.
Q. Where have you learned more, in how little you were in the NBA or how much you played in the G League?
A. My time in the G League grounded me and reminded me to have fun above all else, but I can say that I came out the best player in the G League. In the NBA, at the beginning especially, played only the minutes of the garbage. In the G League I had to compete from the beginning playing important minutes. My game has changed since then.
It has surprised me to see players like Doncic or Antetokounmpo, but the player that has impacted me the most is LeBron james”
Q. Was there disappointment when you were told you would play in the G League?
A. No, not at all. There is a very high percentage of players in the NBA who have passed through there. I think it’s part of the learning process and, as I say, I think it improved my game.
P. Of all the players in the NBA, who is the one that has impacted you the most?
R. I really wanted to see players like Antetokounmpo or Doncic up close. And the truth has surprised me a lot, but the one that has impacted me the most is LeBron James because of his ability to dominate everything in a game. It is incredible, I have not seen a player who dominates like him.
Q. And what would you highlight most about the NBA?
A. What has caught my attention the most is that the game is much faster. It’s more if we can get a basket in a better second. There are not so many plays. That, and the fact that the teams are not relegated and in this way they can work without that pressure. You have to win games, of course, but there is not as much pressure as if you were going to go down like in the ACB. That means that teams that win few games a year can fight for better things in a short time.
Q. Like the Rockets? How do you see your team’s project for the future?
R. I think that in two or three seasons we are going to surprise in the League, I am sure that we will be among the best. We have a young base and we are going to work together a lot this summer to continue evolving.
Q. This year they had some very good winning streaks…
R. In the NBA you have to be prepared every day and be very consistent. We lacked that consistency to be at the top, but we showed that we can do very good things. The key in this League is consistency.
Q. Who is your favorite for this year?
R. I think the League is more open than ever, I don’t have a clear favourite.
Because of how the season has gone, I think Madrid can win the Euroleague.”
P. The other day Doncic showed to be attentive to current football and basketball at the same time. He has shown his Madridismo in many messages. Do you follow your former team?
A. One hundred percent. There is no more Madridista than me.
P. Did you ever think, in this tough year, about how well you would be playing in white?
R. If I’m honest, I’ve been focused on progress enough to think that. No, at the moment I don’t think about it, but I am clear that if one day I return to Europe, and they love me, the only place I would go is to Madrid.
P. Do you see your former team with options to win the Euroleague?
R. After everything that has happened this season and the series against Maccabi, I think they are going to win it.
P. And the Champions League football?
R. After they have done it, I have no doubt that they can win it. It’s difficult, of course, like the Euroleague, but let’s see who bets against that team.
Q. Do you see Mbappé playing for Madrid next year?
R. It comes one hundred percent. You can put it. I’m sure of it.
P. This summer we have Eurobasket. Will he be with the team?
R. I would love to, first to coincide with people with whom I have already played, in Madrid and in the National Team, but now more so because a new group is going to be created, with younger players. There will be a generational change and I am very excited about it, it is something very special. If they call me, I will be one hundred percent.
Being with the national team is something very special, and even more so now that there is going to be a generational change.”
P. And besides the selection, what are your plans before next season?
R. Since I have returned from Houston I already work with my lifelong coach. Now a coach from Houston is coming and then I will go to Houston to play the Summer League, the Summer League.
P. When would you consider returning to Europe? What would have to happen?
R. Well, the first thing would be to have fulfilled everything I plan to do in the NBA. And I’m starting. If I didn’t feel good, I would go back. But I haven’t really thought about it.
Kellogg Values Ambassador
Kellogg hosted Usman Garuba’s first appearance in Spain since joining the Houston Rockets. The player is his ambassador and the firm wanted to organize a meeting with journalists so that he could convey his feelings after his first season in the NBA. Susana Entero, general director of Kellogg Spain, spoke about her ambassador: “We are very proud to have Usman as a Kellogg representative in our country and beyond our borders.” He added: “Our commitment to promoting a healthy and balanced lifestyle has remained strong in recent years, and sport plays a fundamental role in this equation. That is why it is so important for us to go hand in hand with Usman , which perfectly exemplifies the values we want to convey to the world: effort, commitment, teamwork, camaraderie, perseverance and family”.